I’m sure a lot of you have read Julianne Shepherd’s ever-so-subtle music piece in the Village Voice on Vampire Weekend, titled “Please Ignore This Band.” Well, some of you probably have.
I’ll boil it down for you folks without the patience to read the whole thing: Ms. Shepherd doesn’t like the hype-prone NY indie band Vampire Weekend, and thinks that you shouldn’t either. “Why not?” you might ask, “Because they use African rhythms in some of their songs while simultaneously not being even remotely African themselves? Maybe because they do so while dressed kinda like college Republicans?” NO, she says. That’s all above-board (until she complains about all of it later in the article). What really makes Shepherd angry is that they don’t have any edge and their music makes them seem like they’re rich white kids.
My favorite part, the section that really just screams “I AM AN APPRECIATOR OF ONLY MUSIC THAT I THINK HAS ENOUGH CRED FOR ME TO LISTEN TO” and also makes me think that the piece was actually written by a guy in his 50’s who still wears his original CBGBs shirt (the one that Joey Ramone spit on that one time) and has orthopedic insoles in his Doc Martens, is as follows:
“Moreover, their calculatedly highbrow guitar techniques — pointedly undistorted; I bet these guys read sheet music — and carefully tousled nice-guy vocals drip so liberally with propriety that their style has, for me, become a resounding philosophical statement, a line in the sand. And because their whole steez is so ’80s, I am forced to choose Black Flag and Minor Threat. Impeach Reagan!”
Impeach Reagan? Give me a break. Cheesy nostalgia for political sentiment from 20 years ago aside, the logic here just doesn’t play out … She’s angry at Vampire Weekend for being good at playing their instruments, not using distortion, (allegedly) being able to read sheet music (GASP), being carefree in their lyrics and not having harsh voices … Ok, at the very least I can acknowledge that this is a viewpoint to which someone might subscribe. And that’s fine, honestly. If you like only music that has those things (shitty musicianship, politically aware lyrics being yelled/screamed), that’s cool. I’ve known some very worthwhile people who liked nothing but that kind of music. But if your tastes are that specific, then you shouldn’t be a music critic, and you should have the level of self-awareness to say to yourself “Well, my tastes reside in a very small niche in the musical spectrum. Other people can like other music if they want.” I’d also like to point out that while Minor Threat and Black Flag performed some harsh music, they were all DAMN good at their instruments.
As I was reading the article, I kept thinking about how basically all the British Invasion bands appropriated Black American music and dressed like the English version of preppy (mod), and they’re all canonized in “hip” culture. And Shepherd’s complaint about the conventional and provincial nature of their lyrics? The Kinks did a full album of it on their Village Green Society, which is considered a masterpiece by anyone who likes rock music and has ears. I don’t see how dressing in polo shirts, khakis and boat shoes and using some beats and guitar stuff that you copped from an African music blog is any different. And complaining that they’re too hyped or too catchy or too pop or too whatever for your holier-than-thou music tastes is just ridiculous too.
I had never actually seen a picture of Vampire Weekend until I read Shepherd’s article and went and found one. A couple of them do indeed look like they could be college Republicans. But here’s the real point: I liked their music before I saw what they looked like. And I liked their music despite (maybe even because of?) the good musicianship and provincial lyrics. So why should I give a damn about how they dress or if their lyrics discuss class warfare or whatever other nonsense people can come up with? If you don’t like Vampire Weekend’s music, then by all means, ignore this band. But don’t do it for some bs reason like the ones Shepherd trots out. Just take the music for the music and screw the rest.
Vampire Weekend – Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa
Vampire Weekend – Walcott (Buy It)
The Kinks – Picture Book (Buy It)
Related! My friend Katy posted this on her blog earlier this month. While I was ripping off her site, I also got my hair cut to look like hers. Creepy, right? (I didn’t actually).
Unrelated! I wrote a post for Contributor Matt’s blog here. It has nothing to do with music. Or vampires. It does have something to do with weekends, though. So I guess slightly related.
posted by Adam